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Hondurans there and here applaud possible Hernández extradition: 'He made Honduras more dangerous'

Honduran police lead former President Juan Orlando Hernandez (center) in handcuffs and chains from his home in Tegucigalpa on Tuesdays after the U.S. requested his extradition on drug charges
Honduran police lead former President Juan Orlando Hernández (center) in handcuffs and chains from his home in Tegucigalpa on Tuesdays after the U.S. requested his extradition on drug charges.

Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández may be bound for the U.S. to face charges he aided drug gangs that force Hondurans to flee to the U.S.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was arrested in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday after the U.S. requested his extradition on drug charges. Hondurans there and here in South Florida see it as a help in combating the epic corruption that drives so many migrants out of Honduras.

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Honduran police led Hernández in handcuffs and chains from his house in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday afternoon. Honduras' Supreme Court, meanwhile, moved to designate a judge to handle his extradition case, which will decide whether or not Hernández is sent to the U.S. to be prosecuted.

Hernández has for years been identified in U.S. court papers as a drug-trafficking “co-conspirator.” The U.S. as a rule doesn’t indict sitting heads of state; so it waited until after Hernández left office last month to issue the extradition request charging him with drug conspiracy and weapons smuggling.

If the charges are true, Hernández and his right-wing National Party took millions in bribes to aid the ultra-violent drug gangs that plague Honduras and force tens of thousands of people to flee the country each year.

Hondurans like Julio Calderon, a community organizer in Miami who left Honduras at age 16 to escape those gangs.

No tenía pena — this guy was shameless," Calderon said about Hernández.

"The biggest factor of migration to the United States from Honduras has been how dangerous the country has become. And if there is one person who increased that danger to another level, it was Juan Orlando Hernández.”

Hernández – whose brother and former Honduran Congressman Tony Hernández is now serving a life sentence in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking – denies the charges. But testimony from the trials of his brother and other Honduran traffickers finger the former president as taking as much as a million dollars from drug lords such as Mexico's notorious "El Chapo," and remarking that he would "shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos."

Earlier this month, Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Biden Administrationto designate Hernández a foreign drug "kingpin."

Most Hondurans today regard Hernández as the head of a deep culture of corruption in Honduras, which in the past decade has included scandals like crippling embezzlement from the national healthcare system. The Biden Administration has pledged to help reduce that criminality, in large part to help reduce illegal migration to the U.S. from Honduras, which is now the largest source of asylum-seekers on the U.S.'s southern border.

“This extradition will give us a sense of hope — but we need to see that this is also able to happen within the country," said Honduran human rights activist Natalia Lozano of the U.S. campaign to help develop Honduras' democratic institutions.

"We currently don’t have a justice system that could make this happen for ourselves.”

The U.S. over the past decade has come under criticism from rights advocates in Honduras for treating Hernández as an ally in the Honduran drug fight instead of as an obstacle and foe. Former President Trump was accused of going soft on Hernández because the Honduran leader agreed to hold migrants seeking U.S. asylum in Honduras.

It was unclear Tuesday which Honduran judge will handle Hernández's extradition case, which could take weeks if not months.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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